A recent survey of small-business owners across the nation shows that entrepreneurs are like everyone else when it comes to picking a president: fix the economy, and you'll get their vote.

In California that holds true. More than a third, 38 percent, of small-business owners here rated the economy and jobs as their single most important factor in choosing a president, according to the 2012 George Washington University-Thumbtack.com survey.

The survey, with 6,164 respondents answering business-related questions, included roughly 89 percent of businesses that had between one and five workers, and 4.5 percent with 11 or more workers.

Nationally, 39 percent of small businesses said that President Barack Obama is the most supportive candidate of small business, with 31 percent saying the same of Republican candidate Mitt Romney, according to the survey.

"Whatever it takes - by either candidate - just take the heat off the wallet so that there's extra cash out there for us," said Steve Aronson, co-owner of The Baseball Card Company in Granada Hills.

The commercial heartbeat of Southern California is the small-business entrepreneur whose success or failure often hinges on the business environment and the impact government has on it.

Los Angeles News Group reporters canvassed Los Angeles communities and heard from small-business owners who shared their concerns.

- Josh Dulaney

 

Nassar Shayesteh opened Long Beach Pizza Co. in the vibrant, bohemian Broadway business corridor at Redondo Avenue in 1994.

In the past four years, however, business has been declining.

"Five years ago, business was booming," he said. "This block was always busy and people were out spending money - that has changed."

Shayesteh said that small businesses need more cash flow, but with the decrease in customers, there is no real income.

Long Beach Pizza Co. is on a busy stretch of East Broadway in a thriving Long Beach neighborhood, but owner Nassar Shayesteh says business has been worse
Long Beach Pizza Co. is on a busy stretch of East Broadway in a thriving Long Beach neighborhood, but owner Nassar Shayesteh says business has been worse in the last five years. He says cash flow is a major concern for his pizza shop. (Stephen Carr/Staff Photographer)

Small-business owners throughout the nation are eagerly watching this year's presidential election, listening for clues from President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on how they plan to help small businesses, a struggling segment considered the backbone of the U.S. economy.

Small businesses employ almost half the American workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Almost 48 million Americans work for businesses that employ 50 or fewer workers, out of the 108 million employed by private business overall.

"This 2012 election may be more important than ever for small businesses and entrepreneurs because they are playing an ever-increasing role in what's happening in terms of job growth," said Thomas Knapp, associate director of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the USC Marshall School of Business.

"New jobs aren't being created by the large Fortune 500 companies. They're coming from new, innovative, emerging small businesses."

But even a few years into a tepid recovery, the outlook seen by small-business owners remains dim.

The National Small Business Association reported last month that 40 percent of small business owners are not confident about the future of their own business - up from 25 percent just six months ago.

Steve Aronson, co-owner of The Baseball Card Company in Granada Hills, isn't sure who he wants to vote for, but he knows the biggest problem that has plagued the nation is figuring out how to "put more cash in people's pockets."

"Whatever it takes - by either candidate - just take the heat off the wallet so that there's extra cash out there for us," said Aronson, whose store has specialized in sports trading cards for 22 years.

"Whether that's tax breaks, letting people refinance their homes for a lower mortgage rate so they have a little extra cash per month without the hassle ... Anything that would help put more cash in people's pockets would help small businesses tremendously."

Experts and those struggling to survive on Main Street every day say the issues facing small businesses have the potential to make or break this election - and the country's spirit.

Mark Skracic, a butcher who co-owns San Pedro s South Shores Meat Shop with his father, says the store has fared the economic challenges well despite a
Mark Skracic, a butcher who co-owns San Pedro s South Shores Meat Shop with his father, says the store has fared the economic challenges well despite a drop in business. He hopes next month s elections will bring some stability. (Sean Hiller/Staff Photographer)

"Historically, when you work your way out of a recession like we are now, it's the small businesses that create 70 percent of the new jobs to pick us up out of the slump," said Warren Cooley, spokesman for the San Fernando Valley Economic Development Center.

Help wanted

Job creation is exactly what small business owners like Zoya Norsworthy of the Redondo Beach shop Zoya's would like to do, but her ability to provide employment has diminished.

A decade ago, her women's boutique - nicknamed the "Marilyn Monroe shop" for its numerous photos and paintings of the Hollywood icon - employed five part-time workers.

"Then it went to four, then to three, then to two and - boom - now nothing," she said.

Jane Skeeter, president and CEO of UltraGlas Inc. in Chatsworth, knows Norsworthy's pain.

Skeeter started the architectural glass manufacturing company in 1987 and at the peak of business employed nearly 40 workers. But between the compounding costs of health care, taxes, utilities, rent and more, she has had to downsize and now employs 16 people.

"I've cut hours. I've cut salaries. I've cut people," she said. "What I'd like to see from my government is it cut the red tape."

Skeeter would like more incentive programs for established but struggling businesses and see the administration monetize tax credits.

"I have well over $100,000 worth in tax credits, but tax credit doesn't do me any good if I'm not in a positive cash flow. ... I don't need credits. I need cash in my hand that I can use to hire more people," she said.

But she added, she feels this year entrepreneurs like her do have a voice in the campaign.

"I really think that small businesses have more of an ear, that the politicians are finally listening," Skeeter said. "There's so much on the line."

Estella Gutierrez, co-owner of Endless Beauty, a boutique beauty supply store and salon off Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Woodland Hills, said she and her business partner Shay Cohen have struggled to keep the business open. The two find it increasingly disheartening when they get rejected time after time for small-business loans.

"As small businesses, if you don't get any help it's hard to keep the cash flowing and you end up having to close your doors," she said. "I'm not talking about giving us money for free, but the government shouldn't be so harsh on us when we're trying to help the local economy."

R or D?

While he won't publicly advocate for either side, Cooley sees a distinction between the approaches of Obama and Romney and their respective parties in dealing with small business.

"The competing philosophies are that one party (the Democrats) has the federal government doing more in terms of investing in small businesses while the other (Republicans) has the federal government doing less," Cooley said. "I don't think there is a pure right or wrong approach, but during this election season the two candidates will surely get a reality check."

For many business owners who are already struggling, taking a political stance in public didn't seem worth the risk. Dozens of business owners across Los Angeles County declined to comment about the current political and economic climate, particularly avoiding mention of who they support for president.

Some economic experts also declined to pick a favorite as well, except to say whoever next lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. will have to walk down Main Street often.

"Both candidates need to figure out how to work closer with the small businessman and entrepreneurs and figure out how he can help them be innovative so new services and new goods can be provided to drive the economy," Knapp said. "You can't make it burdensome with regulations and taxes. When there's additional fees, licenses or taxes, it can impede a small business's growth and focus."

Knapp added that just like it is for many other Americans, health care is a major issue among the small business community because the costs can place an even heavier burden on mom-and-pop shops.

In San Pedro, South Shores Meat Shop has seen business drop because of the Great Recession and slow recovery.

However, the store has fared much better than most other businesses in the area, according to Mark Skracic, who co-owns this traditional butcher shop with his father.

The butcher hopes for improvement after the election.

"What you want is basic stability so people won't be wondering if they'll have money next month," he said.

Jobs, jobs, jobs

Randy Gordon, president and CEO of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, calls this year's vote the most critical of his lifetime.

"At 63 years old, I am confident that this is the most important election for the future of our country," he said. "I have been CEO of the chamber for 18 years, and in the chamber business 30 years, and this is it - the most important election.

"Across the board, small-business owners need more jobs," he said. "I don't mean jobs at their specific business per se, but I mean more jobs in the neighborhood, the community, the city."

The city's largest economic engine, the Port of Long Beach, has two projects - the Middle Harbor and the Gerald Desmond Bridge - that over the next decade are expected to create 20,000 jobs. It is these jobs, Gordon said, that will create business for all of Long Beach's businesses.

"If people are making money, they will spend money," he said. "Creating 20,000 jobs has a trickle-down effect on every business - whether it is a family adding a night to go out for pizza or stopping in and buying something from a local shop - people who have money, spend money."


Staff Writer Muhammed El-Hasan contributed to this report.

mariecar.mendoza@dailynews.com

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